The other day I tagged along with my Niece and Mother to see the latest Narnia Film Adaptation. I’m not generally very interested in those kinds of films but nonetheless, I went along. Right before the very end of the film, when all that was left to be seen was the inevitable end-of-the-show-happy-moment, the part of these movies that I usually hate the most-when everything is happy again and probably someone does something silly and all the characters laugh in a loving way; long after all the bad guys have lost the big battle and all the characters are wearing fresh clean clothes again-the projector went down. I took the initiative to go inform the management of the theater and then returned to my seat for an uncomfortable spell in the dark, while the various strangers in the room increasingly starting taking the liberty to attempt to entertain everyone else with their comments about the predicament.
After about ten minutes, the manager came into the theater and announced that they could not fix the projector and that she’d be happy to give us all free passes that we could use anytime to see another movie. Personally, I was glad because I had already seen all that I wanted to and then some, and so this, to me, was like a twofer.
Next thing I knew, I was a member of a mob in the lobby waiting for my turn to get a free-movie pass. The people ahead of me in line (if you could have called it a line), began to present themselves to the manager in groupings that increasingly had no personage of evidence:
“Two please.” said one individual.
“Four.” Said another.
The mob had gradually learned that the manager was not holding us accountable for how many passes we were asking for. The earliest people I saw get up to the front of the line would point back into the crowd and say “One for me and one for my friend…” But by the time it was my turn, the process had morphed and it was clear to me that I could have inflated the number in my party. Either the manager didn’t care, or handing the mob was a bit overwhelming. Perhaps it was some combination of factors which lead her to not question the mob.
I thought about it seriously: Should I lie to get extra free movie passes? When it was my turn, I just told her the truth. I got my party’s three passes and headed for the door.
Outside, while I was waiting for my Niece and mother to come out, I observed as a baby-boomer aged lady urged her daughter, who was about my age, to go back in and ask for more free-movie passes.
“They don’t know we’re together. They’ll give you as many as you ask for!” The boomer explained to her daughter. The daughter seemed to feel put-upon by her mother’s idea. Eventually, she just flat out refused her mother’s persuasion.
Standing off to the side, I had an urge to interrupt them and give the Boomer a lecture on ethics. The boomer had an expensive hair-job and was wearing the clothes of an affluent women her age. It bothered me for some reason that this lady, who probably went to college and likely considers herself to be an intelligent person, would be urging her daughter to pull off some petty little act of dishonesty like this. I didn’t intervene, and when the daughter finally put her foot down to her mother’s idea, I felt proud of her. It was as if we were kin in some sort of battle between generations.
Movie theaters don’t make money on admission to films. My understanding is that this is a fairly universal truth here in the states. They make their money on selling concessions which is why, for one, a soft drink costs about $4, and two, they wont let you have a cup of tap water if you ask for one. The theaters generally break even on the admission after paying the studious such a high cost to “rent” the films. Following this line of thinking, it is quite possible that the theater would make even more money from us on popcorn and soda if we were to come back and see two free movies when you compare it to how much money they would make in concessions if we were only given one free movie pass each, since the films that are playing in each theater are going to be playing there regardless of whether or not anyone is watching them, and since after the first week a film runs, attendance tends to be fairly low anyhow.
My reason, however, for refusing to lie to the manager of the theater, has nothing to do with the theater’s profit.
My reasoning is this: If at some point during the night, the theater manager was able to see that the number of passes given out was higher than the number of tickets sold, it would say to her “Some of those people lied.” On the other hand, if the number were the same it would say to her “None of those people lied to me to get a free ticket.” I believe that it is possible to change the way people think they should behave. If you consider that the manager herself, may have been someone who would lie to get a free-movie pass, or commit some other such trivial scam, you may want to consider also, that perhaps the reason she believes this is appropriate is because she witnesses this kind of thing being acted out by other people. On the other hand, if she had the experience of witnessing an entire mob of people waiting to get free-movie passes, none of whom decided to lie about what was owed to them, perhaps she would begin to believe that the world wasn’t so full of liars. Perhaps she would even change her behavior to be more in keeping of what the status quo seems to her to be.
I believe that people are always learning how to behave. I believe that our behavior toward one another, either constructive or destructive, has an effect on the values of the other members of our communities. It is easy to make one person at a time think that the community is filled with liars, thieves, and otherwise selfish people. Just lie to them, steal from them, or cut them off in traffic. On the other hand, every interaction we have with another human being is an opportunity to undo some of the damage and cynicism that’s already out there.
Think about it.